Auto racing is an opaque sport. People can struggle to grasp and appreciate its finer points.
However, even if you have caught only a glimpse of a televised race, then you are probably aware of one notable detail: Companies sponsor race teams.
The idea behind this is simple. Sponsors pay money to receive exposure, and teams can consequently develop their vehicles and hopefully win races. (Of course, audience engagement and sponsor ROI in the racing world could be vastly improved. Alas, that is a topic for another blog post.) The sponsorship business model zoomed along for years, but has been running on empty recently. You see, the cost of managing a racing team has increased astronomically, while “big money” corporate sponsorships have decreased.
Yet there’s a curve ahead. Australian racing driver David Brabham is shifting everything about racing economics and development.
David Brabham is the son of the late Sir Jack Brabham, a phenomenal racing driver and engineer—a model champion of the “old ways.” Sir Jack dominated Formula One racing in the 1960s, winning the World Drivers’ Championship three times and becoming the first driver to win a WDC in a self-constructed car. He later found additional success as a racing team owner. David has also been victorious in racing, winning—among other races—the 24 Hours of LeMans. His greatest accomplishment, though, may be on the horizon. In preparation for the upcoming FIA World Endurance Championship, David is changing how his racing team will be run, funded, and operated.
Corporate sponsors? Gone (for now).
Team secrets? Released to the fans.
Team decisions? Made by an open-source community.
That’s right. David’s latest venture—a funded sports campaign called Project Brabham—is turning the business of racing upside down.
“I have long dreamt of seeing the Brabham team back out on the track, winning at the highest level and continuing the legacy my father laid down when he first started the team in the ’60s,” Brabham announced in 2014. – David Brabham
“Looking at the normal racing model was not exciting or sustainable enough for me to rebuild the team from scratch. For me to bring Brabham back we have to do things differently. After careful consideration and research we have created a new model of open-source racing which will bring fans closer to the action, inspire drivers and engineers and offer the rare opportunity to be a part of this new, but historical, race team.” Thus, anyone in the world who wants to “join” Brabham’s team can go to the Project Brabham crowdfunding page [link: https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/project-brabham] and lend financial support. For around $1.60 USD, you can become a “Supporter.” For a little less than $9,000 USD, you can gain a Le Mans engineer pit pass, and virtually be considered one of the team.
The approach is clearly working. At the time of writing, Project Brabham has raised £291,682 (translation: a whole bunch of dollars). As a result, the initiative has been called “the biggest successfully funded sports campaign across any known, major English speaking crowdfunding platform.”
To be fair, other racing teams over the years have gained funding by somewhat similar means by dicing up the sponsors spots on the car.
Nowhere near the same.
But Brabham is taking this to the next level by making his crowdfunded team open sourced. He and others behind Project Brabham are developing web applications to give fans a behind-the-scenes look at their operation, car setup, engineering, driver development, media training, and so on. They’re lowering the curtain and giving it all away (for a price). To fully understand how revolutionary this approach is, one must consider the fact that racing teams take great precautions to guard secrets. The sport is a test ground for factories and engineers; ultimately, what comes to the track will end up on a production line. Being discreet with one’s intellectual property is paramount. The more you know, the faster (or in many cases these days in endurance racing the further) you go.
One of the main web applications that investors can utilize is Brabham-Engineer, which allows people from around the globe to interject their thoughts, and provide their insights, about Brabham’s racing technology. Instead of paying engineers for their ideas, Project Brabham is attracting engineers who will pay to provide their ideas. (If that fact doesn’t make you sit up and take notice of “the new economy,” then nothing will.) The second main web application is Brabham-Driver, which will help both professional and amateur drivers hone their skills by providing—among other things—“training regimes from specialist coaches.”
Though David Brabham still needs to secure some corporate sponsorships so his team can race in the FIA World Endurance Championship, especially in the 24hrs of LeMans, the assistance of “fan investors” has reduced the cost to compete. Furthermore, the crowdfunded intellectual property and behind-the-scenes talent could turn a great team into an unstoppable one. If Project Brabham is ultimately successful, then perhaps more people in the racing world will realize that brain power can rival—or even trump—“big money.”
We at Lion + Panda salute David Brabham for driving economic, technical, and systemic change in the racing world.
We thrive on change. We lust for reverse-engineering. We are driven by taking things apart and putting them back together in a different configuration for the greater good.
This is change, and we love it.